With the first ever English colony in Canada established at Cupids in August 1610, so began the adventure of settlement in Newfoundland. Who could have predicted when John Guy and 39 faithful followers traversed the Atlantic all those years ago, that they would plant the seed from which so many communities would appear, evolve and flourish?
Amid these blossoming settlements can be found many a fine yarn (the sort of spellbinding story that has become a mainstay of the province over the years). Many of these seemingly tall tales are founded in truth however, with pillaging pirates, devastating fires and numerous ‘foreigners’ - both friendly and otherwise making their way and having their say on these places that still thrive today.
Heart’s Content, for instance, was well known to the settlers of Cupers Cove. Indeed the first references to this community can be found in the writings of the Cupers Cove colonists. At the time of the establishment of Cupers Cove, Heart’s Content was the territory of the native Beothuk, and it is recorded that John Guy’s Trinity Cove expedition party of 1612 spent several nights in Heart’s Content. Soon after, Sir Percival Willoughby, another son of the London and Bristol Company that had set in motion Guy’s ventures into Newfoundland, made numerous attempts to settle people on this land. Heart’s Content is also notable for attacks by the French towards the latter part of the 17th century, though the settlers there made a quick recovery from these advances. In more recent history, Heart’s Content became world famous as the landing site for the first Transatlantic cable, instantly establishing communications between Old World Europe and the New Word of North America.
In the spring of 1612 the colonists at Cupids established a second colony at Renews on the Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula. However, they were forced to abandon it shortly after due to the constant threat posed by the nefarious pirate Peter Easton. Though it took some time, Renews was eventually settled permanently as noted in the first census of Newfoundland taken in 1675, recording five families living there.
Harbour Grace is another community whose roots are a direct by-product of the establishment of Cupids. Around 1616, the Bristol Company of Merchant Venturers decided to branch out from the Cupids colony and establish their own colony at Harbour Grace which they called ‘Bristol’s Hope’. This is not the same Bristol’s Hope we know today, for in the 17th century it was known as Musket’s Cove. Prior to this period, the area was known as the location of the pirate Peter Easton’s fort, though it can be safely assumed that the settlers that followed were far more respectable. Harbour Grace has been settled ever since and is the proudly the second oldest English settlement in Canada.
The two Perlicans, Old and New, can also be traced back to the original settlement at Cupids. Old Perlican is aptly named, as one of the oldest fishing communities in Newfoundland, and because initial references to this history-rich place actually pre-date John Guy’s Cupids settlement, coming in a 1597 report penned by Captain Charles Lee. However, it would not be until the 1630s that Old Perlican was settled, having been repeatedly mentioned by Guy during his exploits in Trinity Bay some two decades earlier. Some years later, Old Perlican would also suffer at the hands of the French, being captured and burned on February 4, 1697, and again on March 29, 1705. The latter attack would be followed up in May of the same year, this time resulting in the settlement being completely razed to the ground. Despite these attacks, and more sporadic French invasions in the following few years, Old Perlican showed the kind of resourcefulness and determination upon which it had been built, recovering to still live on today.
New Perlican, while not quite as old as its “Old” twin, has nonetheless itself been inhabited for well over 300 years. The earliest recorded activity in this community came in 1618, when Thomas Rowley, an original Cupers Cove settler, identified this place as his site of preference to found a new settlement. Yet, it would not be until 1675 that New Perlican was settled, most notably by the Hefford family, the ancestors of whom can still be found in New Perlican, and surrounding parts of Trinity Bay and Conception Bay, today. In keeping with the theme of the time, New Perlican also fell victim to the French toward the end of the 17th century, suffering an attack that resulted in the burning of all the houses in the area. But, again keeping with the theme, the place survived and still lives on today.
The first reference to people living in Carbonear hails from 1627, though it is taken for granted that there were already settlements there by then. The area was probably first settled with pioneers from the colony at Harbour Grace which was located just over the hill to the south. Nicholas Guy, a relative of John Guy and the father of the first English child born in Canada (at Cupids on March 27, 1613), moved to Carbonear and the Guy family remained one of the most important families in Carbonear and in Conception Bay throughout the 17th century.
Scilly Cove (modern day Winterton) was also settled by 1675, and was also raided by the French in 1697. However, on this occasion, the inhabitants must have seen the threat coming, as when the French arrived, they found no people only quantities of cod and cows. The French would return in 1702, this time catching the occupying planters unawares and capturing prominent resident John Masters Sr. His son, John Jr., would later move to England and go on to be elected Mayor of Poole, Dorset two times.
Yet another modern-day Newfoundland town the roots of which can be traced back to the original Cupers Cove settlement is Bay De Verde. This unusual appellation comes from the Portuguese, literally meaning “Green Bay”. This serves as a reminder that it was not only the English and French that fished the area during the 16th century, but also the Portuguese and Spanish. In 1610, John Guy reported that some among his men were fishing in the waters off “Green Bay”, and even saw a shallop sunk at Bay De Verde in a botched bid by his settlers to retrieve an anchor. Bay De Verde was settled proper in 1637, when, on command of King Charles I, Sir David Kirke and his partners were granted fishing rights to a number of Newfoundland harbours, including Bay De Verde. The Taverner family was among the more important to settle here, in the 1650s. Bay De Verde also fell foul of unwelcome French interest in 1697, another town burned in the furious and aggressive campaign led by d’Iberville. Despite this, and a repeat attack in 1705, Bay De Verde continued to thrive and grow into the proud community it still is today.
Other neighbouring communities, such as Brigus and Bryant’s Cove share similar stories of English heritage, French aggression, and determined survival - seemingly tall tales of intrepid survival, but as true as the proud people that still call these historic settlements home today. And, always-superb subject matter for what Newfoundlanders treasure most a good yarn told over a steaming cup of English tea!
There was some good news, however, with the first child born on March 27. A son to Nicholas Guy and his wife, the boy became the first English child born in Canada.
In April 1613, John Guy left Newfoundland indefinitely. He would go on to enjoy great success as a Member of Parliament back in his native England, and campaigned vehemently for the rights of settlers back in Newfoundland throughout his political career. In 1615, John Mason assumed the role of governor of the Newfoundland colony. In a highly successful 6-year reign, Mason chased out the pirate threat and would later go on to establish new colonies in Maine and New Hampshire. It is not clear who, if anyone, succeeded Mason as governor; however, the settlement at Cupers Cove carried on, growing and flourishing into the vibrant and proud community we today call Cupids.
Photography by Dennis Minty for the Cupids 400 Photo Bank.